Understanding Romans is crucial to understanding the Gospel. I have repeatedly journeyed through Romans accompanied by brother John Stott. God blessed my life with his excellent commentary on Romans and his book, “The Cross of Christ,” both of which increased my understanding of the gospel and indeed of God’s own heart.
Stott’s writings are replete with thorough Biblical and historical research. Rereading this masterpiece recently, my own soul was fired and stirred, and also stimulated with many lines of thought to pursue in personal study.
Further, this consideration of the cross’s atonement challenges us to think more deeply about gospel truths, and to articulate them more coherently. God used this book to prepare my mind and heart for my current work, evangelizing Chinese communities with their many searching questions.
Approaching the Cross
This first section teaches the centrality of the cross in all things Christian, and of the fundamental reason for the cross, that Christ might graciously die my death, for my sins, to bring me to God.
The Heart of the Cross
Here Stott outlines Scripture’s teaching of divine wrath confronting human sin and guilt, a teaching uncomfortable to postmoderns. But Stott uses an insightful quote from R.W. Dale: “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God” (The Cross of Christ, 2006 edition, p. 110). Actually, God’s wrath is not explosive or vindictive, but rather a steady and principled opposition to sin. “What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes His; what provokes His anger (evil) seldom provokes ours” (p. 171).
Stott also explores “satisfaction through substitution,” the heart of the cross. He articulates clearly that at the cross, God was punishing Himself. Without clarification, the statement “God’s Son satisfied a holy God by being punished for our sins” can lead to many misrepresentations of God’s character. How can God justly punish Someone Who is not guilty, and let the guilty go free? Some irreverent scoffers even say that God punishing His Son is “cosmic child abuse” (Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, pp. 182-183).
The cross is actually God’s way of satisfying Himself for sin. God must be satisfied because He is holy. But for anyone other than God to make satisfaction would be immoral. Think of the injustice of human judges knowingly punishing someone other than the guilty party. God is never unjust. He cannot punish someone else; He does not wish to punish us, so He can only punish Himself. Stott says, “Any notion of penal substitution [God’s punishing a substitute] in which three independent actors play a role – the guilty party, the punitive judge, and the innocent victim – is to be repudiated. What we see, then, in the drama of the cross is not three actors but two, ourselves on the one hand and God on the other. Not God as He is in Himself (the Father), but God nevertheless, God made-man-in-Christ (the Son)” (p. 158).
Salvation comes from God’s united heart. “Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice” (p. 158). “The Father did not lay on the Son an ordeal He was reluctant to bear, nor did the Son extract from the Father a salvation He was reluctant to bestow” (p. 151).
The Achievement of the Cross
Stott discusses four salvation images from Romans: propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation (taken from temple, marketplace, courtroom, and family realms respectively). These terms demonstrate our deliverance from divine wrath, and sin’s captivity, guilt, and animosity. Then Stott shows how the cross reveals God’s glorious attributes and His conquest of evil.
This section caused worship to ascend and deep insight into justification’s beautiful significance (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Pet 1:1). Stott quotes Luther: “Learn to know Christ and Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and say ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on You what was mine; yet set on me what was Yours. You became what You were not, that I might become what I was not’” (p. 197). Glorious!
Living Under the Cross
Stott closes with the cross’s life implications in four dimensions: worship at the Lord’s supper, discipleship, loving our enemies, and suffering and glory. His chapter on suffering left the deepest impression on my heart. I wept as I read it.
Stott shows how Christ’s sufferings connect to our own sufferings. He says, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. … In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” After recounting seeing the Buddhist statue’s peaceful face in many Asian countries (as I have also done), he writes: “In imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. This is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His” (pp. 326-327). This is the God for me too!
Perhaps this aversion to suffering exposes the weak Christianity and worldly living among many western Christians. Stott closes with this searching quote from G. Campbell Morgan. “It is the crucified man that can preach the cross. Said Thomas, ‘except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails … I will not believe.’ Dr. Parker of London said that what Thomas said of Christ, the world is saying about the church. And the world is also saying to every preacher: Unless I see in your hands the print of the nails, I will not believe. It is true. It is the man … who has died with Christ … that can preach the cross of Christ” (pp. 341-342).
I thank God for blessing my life and thoughts with “The Cross of Christ.”